Imaginary Friends…when has it gone too far?


(Bear pictured here with her best buddy/cousin in their matching STEWART T-Shirts)

Everything you read about parenting says encourage kids to be creative and use their imaginations. My question is; when has it gone too far? Here is the reason for asking. Bear (now 3 ½ years old) has two imaginary friends Stewart and Dunkin. Anyone who knows Bear knows who I’m talking about. Stewart and Dunkin are imaginary donkeys (pink donkeys to be specific). And they have been in our family for almost 2 years. It sounds weird I’m sure…Stewart came into our family first after a ride to church and we passed a farm with four of the cutest little donkeys. That sealed the deal, Stewart was born. Dunkin arrived a little later as we were telling bedtime stories and needed to create an imaginary friend for Bear’s Best Friend, D.

I would say that we have fed into this Imaginary Donkey thing – for example, we drop them off for play dates at the little farm on our way to church. We have been known to set a place setting for Stewart. Even I laughed when my husband pulled the car over on the side of the road, opened his door and yelled; “Come on Stewart, hustle and get in the car.”

A recent story about Stewart that made us all stop and chuckle was during our second move-in day in Atlanta. We had just spent our first night in our new Georgia home, we were surrounded by boxes, working feverishly to unpack and get settled. Early the next morning as the unpacking ritual was underway – Bear announces, “Guys, today is a really special day – It’s STEWART’S BIRTHDAY!!” We all stopped and looked at her. “Really?” Stewart has been in our family for two years, has never celebrated a birthday – and today (of all days) is Stewart’s birthday. Well…Fabulous! That means tonight we will have cake, because no Lefko Birthday should go un-celebrated. Bear was tickled by the fact that we celebrated his birthday. So, as any 3-year-old would do – the next morning she announced; “And TODAY is a special day, It’s Dunkin’s Birthday!” Sorry, only leftovers for Dunkin.

We love the imagination and we encourage it. On many occasions we will remind Bear that Stewart isn’t real and we can’t see him, but it’s fun to make-believe. (For example we really don’t need a plane ticket for Stewart, nor do we have to tell the ticketing agent about him.) Sure, it can be a little awkward when Bear tells strangers, friends or even her teachers about Stewart – and they give a questioning look at her - then us. Our entire extended family knows Stewart, and even on occasions will call and ask Bear how Stewart is adjusting to the South? Oh well, she’s three and she confidently talks about her imaginary friends.

So when will it end or when should it end? I was having a long conversation with Ali (our dreamer and believer) about it. She is majoring in Psychology (and the Lefkos are her thesis – I’m guessing) and she knows Bear and Stewart all too well. Her opinion is a good one, she believes Stewart will disappear when Bear gets embarrassed by the peculiar looks or laughs when she talks about these make-believe donkeys to her friends. We all believe that won’t be happening anytime soon given Bear’s confidence and love for Stewart.

Have we taken it too far? I’m going to answer my own question with…we all love to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny – why not a pink donkey named Stewart?

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6 Responses to “Imaginary Friends…when has it gone too far?”

  1. Kim @ What's That Smell? November 17, 2009 at 8:23 pm #

    I think it is a wonderful way for her to explore her imagination and the way your family has embraced it will prove to be valuable for her. You could choose to mock them or poo-poo them and I think that would teach her to become embarrassed to express herself and turn inward.

    I really doubt Stewart and Dunkin will accompany her to middle school, kindergarten, maybe LOL!

    And it makes for a great story and great memories.

  2. Kim November 17, 2009 at 8:54 pm #

    Thanks Kim. Your support is much appreciated. I was a little worried about the response to this post. Thanks!!

  3. Bobby November 18, 2009 at 2:32 pm #

    Even children get lonely. Having imaginary friends is a great way for them to develope their imagination as well as play with someone who shares their same interests. It also gives them a sense of empowerment because they are in control of this relationship. I am so glad you ecourage this form of imaginary play. It is healthy and makes your child happy. Good job.

  4. Jennifer @ J. Leigh Designz November 18, 2009 at 4:44 pm #

    I think its adorable actually! I love how you even baked a cake! Personally, since you are still pointing out that its truly her imagination why not have fun with it? It obviously makes her happy. Plus, its something you will share in wonderful memories even when she’s older!

  5. Donna November 18, 2009 at 4:50 pm #

    What a great story and how much fun it is to have playmates anytime you want! I think it’s great that you support this! Encouraging her and participating in her fantasies helps her learn to be even more creative and builds mental strength. She is also building her abilities for caring and compassion. You never know when she might need to tap that resource in her future. In any event, you will have wonderful memories. Seems like these donkeys are pretty nice pals to have. (Did you ever see the movie “Drop Dead Fred”? LOL. Glad you shared this story.

  6. Grampy November 23, 2009 at 4:23 pm #

    I have always loved talking to Bear about Stewart. It has made conversation between her and Grampy very easy and fun. I imagine, and can converse, with her at the same level.